An Independence Day Alternative

How the “enlightened” leaders of the early US disregarded an Independence Day oration and set in motion indigenous peoples’ brutalization. 

Source: An Independence Day Alternative

Cherokee arrive in Oklahoma following the Trail of Tears. Dorothy Sullivan

Sample first page.

Two hundred and twenty-two years ago today (1797) , in a field near what’s now Greenville, Ohio, a preacher named John Rhys delivered an Independence Day address to the United States Army.

The troops in his audience had recently won a decisive victory over the Western Confederacy, an alliance of Native peoples who’d been battling white encroachment in the Midwest for a decade. That victory had brought to an end the first Indian war of the federal era. More than a thousand white Americans had been killed, and perhaps twice that number of Native Americans.

Native leaders expected that defeat would mean a permanent expulsion from their lands. But Reverend Rhys took a different line. “The love of conquest and enlargement of territory should be sacrificed,” he told the troops. “Whites and Indians should move to each other’s towns, get to know each other better, perhaps even fall in love.” When they recognized their mutual humanity, he insisted, they would become “one people, and have but one interest at heart.”

It’s easy to see the relationship between white people and Native Americans in early US history as a zero-sum game: the United States gave national form to a practice of settler colonialism that had marginalized Native people for centuries; the interests of white settlers who pushed forward into Indian country after 1776 were fundamentally opposed to those of Native Americans.

And in their broad outline, these assumptions are correct. From George Washington to Andrew Jackson (and beyond), America’s presidents had little regard for the wellbeing of Native people. But Rhys’s Independence Day oration points to a very different outcome, free of mass murder and terror.

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